December 31, 2009

The Top Quotes of the Year in 2009

Below, in chronological order, are my picks for the top quotations of 2009 — the quotes that seemed to get the most attention during the past year in the news and elsewhere.

There were more than would fit into a top 10 list. So, I’ll call them The Top 10 Quotes of 2009 – Plus a Few.


“I hope he fails.”
Rush Limbaugh

Conservative talk show host
Comment about newly-elected President Barack Obama, on his radio show, January 16, 2009.

“I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.”
Carrie Prejean
Miss USA beauty pageant contestant and winner (later fired)
Answer when asked by pageant judge Perez Hilton whether she believed in gay marriage, during the Miss USA contest, April 19, 2009.

“My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called ‘a teachable moment.’”

President Barack Obama

Comment to the press on July 24, 2009 about the uproar over his remark two days earlier that “The Cambridge police acted stupidly” when they arrested Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. President Obama’s use helped popularize the already existing term “teachable moment.”

“Obama...has a deep-seated hatred for white people...This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

Glenn Beck
Conservative talk show host
Commenting on President Obama’s comments about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, in a discussion on the FOX News Network, July 28, 2009.

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel.’”
Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Governor
Post on her Facebook site on August 7, 2009, which first brought attention to the term “death panels.” She then gave it even more exposure in an op-ed she wrote that was published in the Wall Street Journal on September 8, 2008.

“We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma.”
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley
Adding a new catchphrase to the rhetoric used to attack the Democrats’ health care plan, at a town meeting in his home state of Iowa on August 12, 2009.  Four days later, President Obama publicly scoffed at claims that he or the Democrats wanted to “pull the plug on grandma” or create “death panels.”

“You lie!”
Republican Congressman Joe Wilson

The instantly infamous words yelled by the South Carolina Congressman as President Barack Obama was addressing Congress on the health care plan, on September 9, 2009.

“I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.”
Musician Kanye West

His rude rant after grabbing the microphone from award winner Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards on September 13, 2009 (creating the much-parodied meme “I’mma let you finish”).

“I know it wasn’t ‘rape’ rape. I think it was something else, but I don’t believe it was ‘rape’ rape.”
Actress Whoopi Goldberg
Defending director Roman Polanski on ABC-TV’s show The View, on September 28, 2009, by attempting to portray his admitted rape of a thirteen year old girl in 1977 as, er, something else.

“If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.”
Democratic Congressman Alan Mark Grayson

Remark by the Florida Congressman on the floor of the House on September 29, 2009, making “die quickly” the controversial Democratic counterpoint to “death panels,” “pull the plug on grandma” and “You lie!”

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
British “Supermodel” Kate Moss
Her answer when asked if she had a motto, in an interview published by the “fashion Bible” Women’s Wear Daily on November 13, 2009, prompting righteous outrage from anti-anorexia groups.

“We have a social purpose...[I’m] doing God’s work.”
Lloyd Blankfein
Chairman and CEO of the investment firm Goldman Sachs
Defending himself and the financial industry, despite their role in creating the current financial crisis, in an interview published by The Sunday Times on November 8, 2009.

“The system worked.”
Janet Napolitano

Secretary of Homeland Security
Her comment in a CNN interview on December 27, 2009 about the Nigerian terrorist who managed to board a plane with explosives, but failed in his attempt to blow up a planeload of Americans on Christmas Day. Napolitano’s absurd assessment was quickly repudiated by President Barack Obama.

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December 28, 2009

“Wise Latina” and “Too big to fail” – two top quotes of 2009 that were actually uttered years ago


Every year, a number of “quotes of the year” lists are published.

My favorite is the annual list issued by Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the excellent Yale Book of Quotations.

But my own picks for the top quotes of 2009 include some that are not on Fred’s list.

Two of them share an unusual characteristic. They were both made famous in 2009, but they are not new quotes.

In late May of 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor, a judge of Hispanic descent, to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Republicans and conservative talk show hosts raised various objections and issues, hoping to prevent her confirmation by the Senate. The thing they dug up that seemed to get the most media attention was a comment Sotomayor had made eight years previously.

In a speech at the Berkeley School of Law on October 26, 2001, Sotomayor noted that gender and cultural background affect any judge’s view. However, she added:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Only a handful of people had ever heard of the quote until it was used in the debate over her nomination in 2009.

When conservatives claimed the quote showed Sotomayor was a reverse racist, it created a media firestorm.

Sotomayor was confirmed anyway. But the hubbub over her “wise Latina” remark made it one of the most notable quotations of 2009 — even though she’d said it years before.

The second notable quote that had a delayed rise to fame in 2009 is the phrase “too big to fail.”

It gained wide use during the past year to defend and deride the recent government bailouts of some of the country’s largest financial firms. But it was actually coined 25 years ago, during another government bailout.

In 1984, Continental Illinois — the seventh largest bank in the country at the time — faced insolvency due to overly aggressive lending policies.

The bank’s lobbyists and federal financial regulators warned that, if Continental were allowed to “fail,” it would threaten dozens of other banks and the entire economy.

Therefore, they argued, Continental should be bailed out with taxpayers’ money.

And, it was. Continental ultimately received $4.5 billion from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

On September 19, 1984, during Congressional hearings on the bailout, Congressman Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn) observed wryly:

“Let us not bandy words. We have a new kind of bank. It is called too big to fail. TBTF, and it is a wonderful bank.”

Continental Illinois survived thanks to the government’s largesse. In 1994, it was acquired by Bank of America.

McKinney’s “too big to fail” also survived. But, but until, recently it was an obscure phrase known primarily to financial insiders.

In the most recent bank crisis, financial institutions received $700 billion from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), because they were deemed “too big too fail.” One of them was Bank of America.

The TARP funds first began to be disbursed by the Bush administration late in 2008. This year, as the Obama administration continued and expanded the bailout, the widespread use of “too big to fail” made it (in my opinion) one of the top quotes of 2009.

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December 21, 2009

Yes, Ivory Soap is “99 44/100% pure.” And, yes – Marilyn really was an Ivory Snow Mom.


One of the most famous and long-lasting advertising slogans in history is the Ivory Soap slogan “99 44/100% Pure.”

As recorded in the U.S. Trademark Database, it was first used in commerce 127 years ago on December 21, 1882.

Ivory Soap was created by Proctor & Gamble in 1878. Previously, P&G sold a hard, dense yellow soap made from tallow.

Then, a new soap formula devised by James Gamble resulted in a white soap with some special characteristics. Bars made from it floated, instead of sinking like other soaps, and made an especially nice, creamy lather.

The famed slogan was inspired by lab tests. The tests were conducted to compare the new white soap to castile soaps, which were considered the standard of excellence at that time.

“One chemist's analysis was in table form with the ingredients listed by percentage. Harley Procter totaled the ingredients which did not fall into the category of pure soap — they equaled 56/100%. He subtracted from 100, and wrote the slogan ‘99-44/100% Pure: It Floats.’”

The Ivory Soap sold today is essentially the same soap created over a century ago.

But, since then, one additional “impurity” was added to the 56/100th of a percent.

Around 1970, a young, unknown actress posed as a mother holding a baby in a photo used on boxes of Ivory Snow laundry detergent.

Then, in 1972, the actress became world-famous as the star of the groundbreaking art house porn movie, Behind the Green Door.

Yes, the late, great Marilyn Chambers was indeed an Ivory Snow girl, or more precisely an Ivory Snow Mom.

Contrary to some stories, though Marilyn was a babe, she never was an Ivory Snow baby.

And, contrary to other stories, the baby Marilyn was holding in her Ivory Snow photo is not Brooke Shields — though Brooke did appear in some Ivory ads as an infant.

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Comments? Questions? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading, watching and listening…

December 05, 2009

Did Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” refer to the economy or his sex life?


Is it just me, or do profound statements by economic pundits seem a lot like predictions made by the Delphic Oracle or Nostradamus?

Their statements are murky enough to be interpreted in different ways and — eventually — something will happen that at least appears to confirm some part of what they said.

For example, on December 5, 1996, the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan, uttered the profound phrase “irrational exuberance.”

He was discussing potential issues facing our economy, or our monetary policy, or the stock market, or all three.

Or something like that.

Here, from the speech he gave that day at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., is the first part of the paragraph in which Greenspan’s famous two-word quote appears:

“Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?”

OK, I believe Greenspan’s oracular mumbo-jumbo must mean something to economic experts and bankers. (You now, the guys that helped create the economic mess were in today — and made money doing it twice: first when they created the mess and then when taxpayers bailed them out.)

But if Greenspan is so damn smart and prescient, why didn’t he do something to prevent the Dot-com bust, and the mortgage and banking crisis, and the other economic messes that happened or began to develop while he was Chairman of the Fed, from 1987 to 2006?

And, speaking of irrational exuberance, the year after Greenspan coined that term, at the age of 71, he married TV journalist Andrea Mitchell — who is 20 years younger than him.

I predict that future scrutiny of the inverse relationship exhibited by the Greenspan/Mitchell age ratio could someday give new asset values to Greenspan’s famed term.

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November 27, 2009

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

We’ve heard a lot about angry voters this past year. Some media pundits make it sound like it’s a new phenomenon.

But, of course, it’s not.

In recent stories about angry voters — and in comments posted on websites by those angry voters — a common quote used is: “I'm mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

When a source is given for that quote, it’s usually cited as a line by actor Peter Finch from the movie Network, which premiered in New York City on November 27, 1976.

Finch does say something very close to that in the movie. But the commonly heard “I’m mad as hell” version is not his actual quote.

Network was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. In addition to Peter Finch, the superb cast includes Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty.

What Finch actually says in Network, as Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airwaves” is:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

He says the line a number of times in the movie, using “I’m as mad as” and “take this” — not “I’m mad as” and “take it.”

You can watch the scene in which Finch first unleashes his frequently misquoted line on YouTube and read an excellent in-depth summary of Network on the AMC website.

If you didn’t know Network is a 1976 movie, you might think Finch’s famed, glorious rant in it is a commentary on today’s current events.

He starts out by saying:

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter.”

After warming up a bit more, Finch delivers his call to action:

“So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Now that you know what Finch REALLY said in the movie Network, I’ll be mad as hell if you misquote his famous line.

And, if you ever think I’ve misquoted something on this blog, please shoot me an email or contact me via Twitter and let me know.

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November 24, 2009

The “pearl of great price”: an allegory for people who don’t want to win the lottery


Every once in a while, there’s a news story about somebody who won millions in a lottery and ended up being miserable as a result.

I remember one from a few years ago that sounded like a Shakespearean tragedy.

It was about a Pennsylvania man, William “Bud” Post, who won $16 million in the state lottery. After he won, people came out of the woodwork to try to con him and take advantage of him. His brother hired a hit man to try to kill him, so he could inherit the money.

Over time, Bud’s money was drained away by bad investments. He got in trouble with the law for firing a shotgun at a debt collector and eventually went bankrupt. He died at age 66, after telling a reporter “I was much happier when I was broke.”

Somehow, such stories still don’t make me NOT want to win the lottery.

Back in high school, I had a similar reaction to reading John Steinbeck’s famous cautionary novel about sudden wealth, The Pearl.

The title of this tragic novel, first published on November 24, 1947, is thought to be inspired by a famous Bible quotation, Matthew 13:45-46. It’s from one the parables of Jesus, in which he says:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

In Steinbeck’s novel, The Pearl, the son of a poor, but relatively happy Mexican pearl diver is stung by a scorpion. The pearl diver and his wife are too poor to pay a doctor for medical care and fear their son may die. But then the man finds a large, valuable pearl that makes him “wealthy.”

This saves his son’s life – in the short term. But it also makes him a target of con men and thieves. He gets in trouble with the law for killing one of them. Then, he takes his wife and son on the run to escape retribution. But in the end they are caught and the son is shot and killed. The pearl that originally had such great value ends up having a great price.

In a previous post here, I noted that, as a snotty high school kid, I wasn’t really moved by Thornton Wilder’s novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. But today, as a 59-year-old married man, father and grandfather, I am.

I can say the same thing about Steinbeck’s novel The Pearl. I definitely appreciate it more now.

But I’d still kinda like to win the lottery.

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November 16, 2009

The day John Paul Jones planted the phrase “in harm’s way” into our language


In 1778, American Navy Captain John Paul Jones went to France, hoping to persuade the French government to give him a ship to use in the American colonies’ rebellion against the British.

Toward that end, he wrote a letter to Monsieur Le Ray de Chaumont, dated November 16, 1778. In it, he said:

       “I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast
        for I intend to go in harm's way.”

His phrase “in harm’s way” has since become a common figure of speech, meaning “in the path of danger.”

Is is most often used to refer to men and women in the military, who are sent “in harm’s way” during wartime.

Not long after Jones wrote his letter to Chaumont, the French government gave him a frigate that he named the Bonhomme Richard.

On September 23, 1779, Jones and the crew of the Bonhomme Richard fought their famous battle off the coast of England against the British war ship Serapis.

At one point, the Bonhomme Richard seemed to be sinking. So, the captain of the Serapis asked Jones if he would surrender.

That’s when Jones supposedly gave his legendary reply: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

After lashing the Bonhomme Richard to the Serapis and fighting ferociously, the Americans won the battle and the crew of the Serapis surrendered to them.

In 1962, James Bassett’s bestselling World War II novel, Harm's Way, helped make this term taken from Jones’s letter more widely used than ever.

In 1965, the novel was made into an epic movie under the title In Harm's Way, further enhancing the use and recognition of the phrase.

I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen the movie. If you haven’t, you should.

In Harm’s Way is justifiably considered one of the greatest war movies ever made. It was produced and directed by Otto Preminger and stars John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss and Dana Andrews.

November 14, 2009

Lee Atwater and the Republican Party’s “big tent.”


In November of 1989, the first year of George H. W. Bush’s presidency, there were two closely watched gubernatorial elections — one in Virginia, the other in New Jersey.

The Democratic candidates won both races. And, in both campaigns, the candidates’ positions on abortion played a role.

The winning Democrats, Douglas Wilder in Virginia and James Florio in New Jersey, were pro-choice. Their Republican opponents, J. Marshall Coleman and Jim Courter, were anti-abortion.

This led to speculation that the Republican Party’s hardline position against abortion would be a problem in the 1990 mid-term election, allowing the Democrats to gain seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

On November 14, 1989, reporters asked the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Lee Atwater, what he thought.

Atwater had helped design the winning presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was a master and pioneer of the use of political “wedge issues” like abortion and crime.

It was Atwater who created the notorious “Willie Horton ad” that played a key role in Bush’s victory over Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988, by making Dukakis seem soft on criminals.

When asked what the November 1989 gubernatorial election meant for Republicans, Atwater gave a much-quoted answer that helped popularize the political term “a big tent.”

“Our party is a big tent,” Atwater told reporters that day. “We can house many views on many issues. Abortion is no exception.”

Some language reference books say that Atwater coined the phrase “a big tent” that day.

But, although his use is the most famous and gave the term wide familiarity, it had been used previously in politics by both Republicans and Democrats.

In 1975, for example, Democratic House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill told a reporter: “The Democratic Party is a big tent. We are widely diversified.”

During the 1980 presidential election, the Republican National Chairman at the time, Bill Brock, urged the party to embrace a “big tent” strategy. That year, Ronald Reagan won in a landslide over President Jimmy Carter and Republicans gained control of the Senate — the first time Republicans controlled one of the Houses of Congress since 1954.

Lee Atwater died from a brain tumor less than two years after making his own, more famous “big tent” remark.

Before he died, he said he regretted the divisive wedge issue style of politics he helped create. In a widely-noted article published in the February 1991 issue Life magazine, Atwater wrote:

“My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood.”

After writing those revelatory words, Atwater passed away on March 29, 1991 at the age of 40.

If he were still alive, it would be interesting to hear what he’d say about the current state of political “discourse.”

For further reading and viewing, I highly recommend the book Bad Boy: The Life And Politics Of Lee Atwater by John Brady and the documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.

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November 13, 2009

Jefferson’s bloody “Tree of Liberty” quote still fertilizes freedom and fanaticism


One of the signs held by a gun-toting protester against the Democratic health care proposal earlier this year said “IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY!”

This is a shorthand reference to an oft-used and abused quotation by Thomas Jefferson:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Jefferson made this remark in a letter to Col. William Smith, dated November 13, 1787.

It was part of a what he said in the letter about Shays’s Rebellion, a brief uprising of poor farmers and revolutionary war veterans in western Massachusetts that reached a head that year.

They were mad as hell about the crushing taxes they were forced to pay and the laws that let the government confiscate their property if they couldn’t pay those taxes.

As a symbol of their protest, they designated certain trees as liberty trees,” like those used during the Revolution to hang tax collectors working for the British Crown. They demanded changes in the tax laws, they had guns – and they were prepared to use them.

The Massachusetts state government reacted forcefully to put down this threat to their power, with encouragement from Founding Fathers like Samuel Adams. In the rebellion’s most significant “battle,” dozens of protesting farmers were killed or wounded by the state militia. Hundreds were eventually put in prison. Some were executed.

Thomas Jefferson was in Paris at the time. From that distance, he adopted a philosophical view of Shay’s Rebellion.

In his letter to Col. Smith, Jefferson did not justify the rebellion. In fact, he said it was “founded in ignorance.”

But then, Jefferson went on to say the part that people who are mad as hell about something love to quote:

“What country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

Protesters against “Obamacare” are fans of Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” quote.

So was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people by blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, as an anti-government “protest.” When arrested, McVeigh was wearing a t-shirt that had a picture of a tree of liberty dripping blood, and the words: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Indeed, for over two centuries now, Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” quote has been used by various people who think it somehow justifies what they believe and do.

And, I expect it will be for years to come.

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For further reading and viewing, check out Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle by Leonard L. Richards and the recent DVD A Little Rebellion. There’s also an interesting discussion of Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” quote on the American Creation blog.

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November 07, 2009

Is Nixon’s November 7, 1962 rant a “teachable moment”?


Long before dogged news coverage of the Watergate scandal helped force Richard M. Nixon to resign as President in 1974, he disliked the press.

In fact, throughout his long political career, Nixon felt the media generally had a liberal bias and an unfairly negative attitude toward him.

He disliked the way the press failed to fully embrace his anti-communist fervor in the late 1940s, when he was a Congressman and member of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

He was annoyed by some of the coverage he got as Vice President under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

He thought the press was unfair to him in his unsuccessful campaign for President against John F. Kennedy in 1960.

And, in 1962, after Nixon lost the race for Governor of California to Democrat Pat Brown, he was convinced that slanted press coverage was a factor in his loss.

On November 7, 1962, the morning after that election, Nixon held a press conference in which his ire at the press infamously overflowed.

Most people know this frequently quoted part of what he said that day:

“You won't have Nixon to kick around any more because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

But that quote is just the short sound bite from what Nixon said that day – a famous quotation with no context.

If you’re interested in politics and the media, you should read the entire transcript of what Nixon said, especially since it has some ironic relevance to recent political events. (The transcript is posted on the venerable Language Log. There’s also a video excerpt on YouTube.)

I particularly suggest the transcript of Nixon’s November 7, 1962 rant as recommended reading for President Obama and his team, because their recent attacks on Fox News seem eerily Nixonian to me.

I don’t say that because I believe Obama will be creating an “enemies list” or tapping reporters’ phones or doing other evil Nixonian things like that.

I say it because, to me, the attacks on Fox News seem as petty and counterproductive as Nixon’s “last press conference.”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to November 7:

“She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”  - American politician Adlai Stevenson’s famous comment to the press when he learned about the death of Eleanor Roosevelt on November 7, 1962. He was adapting an old Chinese proverb that was also used as the motto of the Catholic humanitarian group, the Christopher Society, in the form: “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

“It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” - The title of the classic movie comedy that spawned the linguistic formula of four repeating adjectives: “It's a —, —, —, — , [something].” The film, with it’s all star cast of great comedians, had its world premiere at the Hollywood Cinerama on November 7, 1963.

November 02, 2009

ThisDayinQuotes.com is finally back online

Welcome to any returning or new readers.

Since October 21st I have been unable to post to this blog because of some mysterious problem with the Google server it is on.

Finally, tonight, my This Day in Famous Quotes blog it is back online and I plan to start regular posts here again tomorrow, November 3rd.

In the meantime, below is a post I put today on my other quote blog, www.QuoteCounterquote.com.

If you’re a quote buff and like this site, you may like that one, too.

Best regards…

- SubtropicBob

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“The rich are different” – a famous quote-counterquote legend

You may have heard about a legendary exchange between the American novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).

Usually, Fitzgerald is quoted as saying: “The rich are different from you and me.” And, Hemingway is quoted as responding: “Yes, they have more money.”

In fact, this is a mythical quote-counterquote. Here’s how it became a legend…

In 1925, Fitzgerald wrote a short story titled “Rich Boy.” It was later published in a popular book of his short stories titled All the Sad Young Men (1936). The story begins with this passage:

"Let me tell you about the very rich.  They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.  Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

Clearly, that’s not a favorable view of the rich.

But years later, Ernest Hemingway, who was supposedly a friend of Fitzgerald, mocked the famed opening lines of “Rich Boy” in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” In the original version of that story, printed in Esquire magazine in 1936, Hemingway wrote:

“The rich...were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, “The very rich are different from you and me.” And how some one had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him as much as any other thing that wrecked him.”

Understandably, Fitzgerald was offended. He complained to Hemingway’s publisher and when the story was reprinted in a 1938 collection of Hemingway’s short stories, “Scott Fitzgerald” was changed to the name “Julian.”

But in his personal notebooks, Fitzgerald made the mistake of writing a cryptic entry that said: “They have more money. (Ernest’s wisecrack.)”

After Fitzgerald’s death, entries from his notebooks were included in The Crack-Up (1945), a book compiled from Fitzgerald’s writings by his friend Edmund Wilson.

Wilson added a footnote to the notebook entry about Ernest’s wisecrack that explained: “Fitzgerald had said, ‘The rich are different from us.’ Hemingway had replied, ‘Yes, they have more money.’”

After that, books began citing this footnote as if it were an actual conversation between Fitzgerald and Hemingway. And, thus a famous quote-counterquote myth was born.

For more about famous misquotes and quote myths, I highly recommend the books The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes and They Never Said it by Paul F. Boller Jr. And John George.

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October 20, 2009

OCTOBER 20 - “Enquiring minds want to know.” No use in inquiring why.

There’s a tipping point at which a famous phrase becomes a cliché.

The well known ad slogan for The National Enquirer supermarket tabloid – “Enquiring minds want to know” – passed that point long ago.

The Enquirer trademarked the slogan in 1981. And, according to the information filed in the U.S. trademark database, it was first used by the gossipy tabloid on October 20, 1981.

During the rest of the 1980s, the slogan was heavily used in print, radio and TV ads and soon became a pop culture catchphrase. (Check out this funny example of a vintage Enquirer TV ad on YouTube.) 

Interestingly, the word “tabloid” was originally a trademarked name for a type of pill made by Burroughs, Wellcome and Co., a British pharmaceutical company founded in 1880. The company’s “tabloid” combined several different ingredients in one pill.

The editors of the Westminster Gazette liked the term and, in 1902, decided to use it as a name for their newspaper. Burroughs, Wellcome sued for trademark infringement but lost – thus paving the way for the term to evolve into its current form.

The term was and still is applied in publishing parlance to newspapers printed in the tabloid format, rather than the  broadsheet style. But in popular usage it now tends to be associated with sensationalistic, celebrity-obsessed publications like The National Enquirer and The Star.

Of course, in recent decades, the tabloid “rags” inspired the broader field of “tabloid journalism” in magazines and on TV.

Apparently, enquiring minds do want to know, as much or more than ever.

And, people still remember and repeat The National Enquirer’s famed ad slogan – even though it is usually misquoted as “Inquiring minds want to know.”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 20:

“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.”  - Winston Churchill’s famous quotation about quotations, from his autobiographical book My Early Life, which was published on October 20, 1930.

“Big girls don't cry.” - The well known song title and lyric by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, released as a single on October 20, 1962

October 17, 2009

OCTOBER 18 - Nigel Rees’s “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter will soon be available by email

I’m departing from my usual format in today’s post to mention a great quotation resource that’s being made available online to quote buffs.

The venerable “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter, which has been published in printed format for 18 years by the eminent British quotation expert Nigel Rees, is now available exclusively in electronic format.

Rees is Britain's most eminent and prolific quotation expert. He’s written over 50 books on quotations and related subjects, like clichés and epitaphs. He’s also the host of BBC’s long-running “Quote…Unquote” radio quiz show and has hosted and been a guest on many other British radio and TV shows.

Until recently, The “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter was available mainly by snail mail. It was distributed here in the United States thanks to another esteemed language maven, Robert Skovgard, creator of The Executive Speaker Newsletter and a nationally known speechwriting expert.

Recently, Skovgard sent out an email to American subscribers announcing that, with the next quarterly issue in January 2010, The “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter will become a free, electronic-only publication, delivered as an emailed PDF attachment.

You can view a sample issue and and sign up to get the newsletter via email by visiting the “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter website.

The only cost is a small, one-time $5 set-up fee. That incredibly reasonable payment can be made online or arranged by phone.

I’ve been a fan of Nigel Rees’ books and a subscriber to the “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter for years. It’s a terrific and entertaining source of information about quotations.

It’s also engagingly interactive. Subscribers can submit queries on quotes they’re curious about – and can submit facts they may know about the quotes Rees and his readers are trying to track down.

If you enjoy reading and learning about quotations, I have two words for you about the “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter email subscription option: GET IT!

Also, do yourself a favor and buy some of Nigel’s books. They’re all fun to read and full of interesting facts and trivia.

Here are some of the famous quotes and phrases linked to October 18:

“We must love one another or die.” - The well known line from the poem “September 1, 1939” by W.H. Auden (1907-1973). First published in October 18, 1939 issue of The New Republic. This quote was featured here in a recent post.

“If you've seen one city slum you've seen them all.” – One of the infamous quotes by Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996), President Nixon’s ill-fated V.P. Spoken by Spiro in a campaign speech in Detroit, Michigan on October 18, 1968.

October 16, 2009

OCTOBER 16 - Castro said “History will absolve me,” but it doesn’t seem likely

On October 16, 1953, Fidel Castro made a four-hour speech, but it wasn’t one of his long stem-winders to his followers.

It was a speech he gave as a prisoner, while being tried in court for leading a small group of rebels in an attack on the Moncada military barracks in Cuba on July 26th.

The remarks Castro made during his trial included his famous quotation: “History will absolve me.” (“La historia me absolver.”)

The Moncada Barracks attack was an attempt to start an insurrection against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. It failed at the time and the men involved were either killed or captured by Batista’s soldiers. But it turned out to be the beginning of the “Cuban Revolution.”

The historical record makes it pretty clear why the revolution happened. Fulgencio Batista was a ruthless dictator. And, he got rich taking cuts and bribes from the U.S. corporations that ran most of Cuba’s major industries and from the American mobsters who ran most of the hotels and casinos in Havana. Meanwhile, most Cubans were poor, uneducated, ill-housed and disenfranchised.

In his remarks at his October 16, 1953 trial, Castro reviewed the many political crimes of Batista and his illegitimate presidency. The entire speech is famous among Marxists, but most books of quotations just give the “History will absolve me” line.

Batista made the mistake of not executing Castro after he was found guilty at the trial. Instead, Fidel was put in prison and then – in an even bigger blunder – Batista allowed him to be released in 1955, thinking he was no longer a serious threat.

The following year, Fidel, his brother Raul Castro, and Che Guevara began organizing disgruntled Cuban peasants into a growing revolutionary army. A few years later they succeeded in driving Batista out of the country (along with the American corporations and the mob).

For a brief time, it seemed like a victory for the Cuban people and potentially for democracy, since Castro had pledged to restore a democratic government.

Then, of course, Castro became a Communist, made himself the semi-godlike ruler of the country and brutally crushed any dissent.

History may absolve Castro for ousting the ruthless dictator Batista. But I doubt if any honest historical accounts absolve Castro for becoming a ruthless dictator himself.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 16:

“I shot an arrow into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where.” - The well known and often parodied lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Arrow and the Song,” which he composed on October 16, 1845.

“Believe it or not.” - In 1918, artist and sportswriter Robert Ripley started publishing an illustrated feature about sports accomplishments and oddities in the New York Globe. He called it Champs & Chumps. After a while, he started including stories about non-sports-related oddities. Eventually, Ripley abandoned the sports angle entirely and, on October 16, 1919, his feature was retitled with the famed phrase we know today – Believe It or Not.

October 09, 2009

OCTOBER 9 - The Greeks had a phrase for it: “Know thyself.”

On October 9th in the year 28 B.C., the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was dedicated.

An inscription on the temple said: “Gnothi seauton.” In English, that’s the famous quotation “Know thyself.”

The quote is generally attributed to The Seven Sages of Greece,” a.k.a. the “Seven Wise Men,” though the words are sometimes attributed to the Greek philosopher Thales or the Greek statesman Solon.

Thales and Solon were two of the “Seven Sages,” a group of 6th century B.C. deep thinkers that also included Periander, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, and Pittacus.

In today’s This Day in Quotes post, I’m including the Know Thyself” video I made for my Quote Counterquote blog. Hope you like it... 

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 9:

“Better living through chemistry.” - The well known and oft-parodied advertising slogan for the DuPont company, first made famous by its use on the DuPont-sponsored radio show Cavalcade of America, which debuted on October 9, 1935.

“The Iceman Cometh.” - Title of the play by American playwright Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) that led to many other “[The something] Cometh” variations – such as "The Diceman Cometh," title of a 1989 performance video by comedian Andrew Dice Clay. O'Neill’s famous play premiered at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York City on October 9, 1946.

A&E Remembers Patrick Swayze 1952-2009

October 04, 2009

OCTOBER 4 - Ras Tafari provides lyrics for Bob Marley

The song “War” by Bob Marley & the Wailers is well known to reggae music fans worldwide. It’s on their classic LP, Rastaman Vibration (1976), one of the most famous reggae albums ever recorded. (You can watch videos of them performing “War” live on YouTube.)

As serious reggae fans know, the lyrics of the song come from a speech by the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I. He gave it on October 4, 1963 at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

Selassie was born in 1892 into Ethiopia’s royal family, which practiced the Ethiopian Orthodox version of Christianity and traced its origins back to King Solomon of Israel and Makeda, Queen of Sheba.

His birth name was Tafari Makonnen. As a young nobleman he was called “Ras Tafari” – the title “Ras” roughly translating as “Duke” in English. When he ascended to the position of Emperor in 1930, he took the name Haile Selassie, which means “Power of the Trinity.”

After World War II, Selassie was a leader in efforts to help African countries transition to independence from European colonial powers. He also encouraged “Pan Africanism,” which fostered a sense of unity and pride among people throughout the world whose ancestors were taken from Africa as slaves.

To Jamaican Rastafarians,” His Imperial Majesty Ras Tafari was (and is) viewed as God incarnate – the Dread Lion of Judah, King of Kings.

Thus, it’s fitting that Rastafarians Bob Marley and the Wailers immortalized key parts of Selassie’s October 4, 1963 U.N. address in their song “War.” Here are some of the words they used from that eloquent speech:

“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned...until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation...until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes...until that day, the dream of lasting peace...will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”

The song added a refrain to Selassie’s words suggesting that until racism is finally stamped out, there will be continue to be “war” – at least in a cultural sense.

To which I say: “Jah Rastafari!”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 4:

• One fitting additional quote to give here is “Fight the real enemy!” – the highly controversial comment made by Irish singer Sinead O’Connor as she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992. Ironically, she did and said that right after she sang an a cappella version of the Wailer’s song “War.” She later said it was a protest against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. That SNL episode started at 11:30 P.M. on October 3rd, but when Sinead uttered her infamous words it was after midnight and thus October 4, 1992.

• For many years, her controversial protest on Saturday Night Live was an “albatross around the neck” of Sinead O’Connor. That’s a phrase derived from the famous poem by British poet, critic, and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – which was first published in a volume of anonymous poems on October 4, 1798.

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